New Year’s Resolution: Service Above Self

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Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” He also said: “Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” 

The latter quote came in a speech just two months prior to his tragic murder on a motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.  This from a man who embodied the principal motto of Rotary, which is “Service Above Self.”  I wrote about Dr. King last year around this time and felt compelled to do something of a reprise with his birthday upon us January 15th.

We live in a world so governed by selfishness, greed, and lust for power that it is simply staggering.  Civility has become an anachronism in this country in both private and public sectors.  Why is it so tough to embrace the admonishment to us in Matthew 22:39 that says: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself?”    Perhaps 2024 is our year to live that credo, beginning with those in our own orbits, and then extending outward throughout the year.  That would be a great way to honor Dr. King who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his love of all mankind. 

It is worth mentioning again that February is Black History Month.  Black history is American history. The contributions of African Americans to the story of this country are immeasurable. This includes literally building Washington D.C., as well as our national economy, as forced and enslaved labor. Many citizens are not aware of many of these contributions because these parts of American history have regrettably, not been taught in our schools.  It is also unfortunate that this omission was not an accident.  If you are indeed a student of history, make a concerted effort to learn more about the important role of Black people in the American story.

One good place to start if you want to raise your history IQ is the work of a true American hero, Dr. King.  However, please do not rush to join the chorus of hypocrites who love to quote him around his birthday and use out-of-context selective snippets from the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech to push some ideological agenda.   I use the word hypocrite given many will utter words from the speech, but then turn around and support public policy that is the antithesis of the message and the man.  That speech was a call for freedom, equality, and respect your fellow human beings.  It is a quest that is still a work in progress.  

Letter from Birmingham Jail. (2024, January 7). In Wikipedia.

If you really want a peek into history, and into the mind and mission of this man of God, then you owe it to yourself to read the “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  This eloquent missive, regarded by some as a revelation and a chronicle of the struggle of African Americans then and now, as protagonists in the American story. Dr. King’s prophetic words ring just as loudly, if not more so today. It may well be one of the best examples of what he stood for, his skill as a writer, and why he is an esteemed American hero. 

Follow this link to experience riveting historic prose from a King.

He and I also share something in common besides being juniors, and a passion for fighting injustice. We are members of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. The first Black Greek Letter organization. I mention this not just as a shout-out to my good brothers everywhere, but rather, I am still awed by the experience of being present for the dedication of the MLK Memorial in Washington DC. My dear fraternity led the effort to make this momentous dream a reality.

The Greater Cleveland Film Commission is deeply committed to a corporate and community culture of diversity, equity, and inclusion, leading to true equal opportunity for all. We work collectively with our stakeholders to protect and promote diverse people, places, and experiences that help tell all of America’s stories equitably and inclusively.

We define diversity as the meaningful participation of myriad groups in cultural and economic development driven by our efforts, including but not limited to race, age, religious beliefs, gender identity, sexual orientation, physical/mental ability, ethnicity, perspective, and geography.

We define equity as the development of policies and practices that help all communities gain access to the resources, opportunities, and networks required to reach their maximum potential.

We define inclusion as the authentic engagement of diverse groups in real personal and professional development, leading to an enhanced sense of belonging.

When added together, we believe that D + E + I = O. Opportunity.

I submit to you that this basic human equation was a central message of Dr. King’s journey while on this earth. In today’s world, it is more relevant than ever, as we see far too many in authority seeking to actively undermine those principles daily. What are you going to tell your children and grandchildren that you did to personally combat such madness and help ensure that the phrase in our Pledge of Allegiance – “liberty and justice for all” is not just an empty promise? 

Eating less, working out more, spending less, etc., are all noble resolutions. I submit that service above self is tougher to practice than all those things, but worth the effort.  Don’t we owe it to ourselves and our kids to do what is necessary to leave them a better world?  Our generation is already reaping what we have sown, and now is the time to course correct.

Your move my friends,
Lowell Perry,
Chief Diversity Officer, VP Corporate & Community Engagement